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WHO issues stricter sex guidelines for Zika virus

The World Health Organization announced updates Tuesday to its interim guidelines to prevent sexual transmission of Zika, suggesting spreading the virus this way may be more common than previously thought.

The virus is mainly transmitted to humans by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, and the primary form of prevention is to avoid getting bitten. But health officials are also urging women who have been in areas hit by the virus to take further precautions and wait longer to conceive.

The new guidelines state that: "Couples or women planning a pregnancy, living or returning from areas where transmission of Zika virus is known to occur, are strongly recommended to wait at least 8 weeks before trying to conceive to ensure that any possible Zika virus infection has cleared."

If the male partner was confirmed to have Zika and was symptomatic, the couple should wait six months before trying to conceive.

WHO'S guidelines now match that of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Previously, WHO recommended a four-week minimum period before trying to conceive under such circumstances.

The virus has been found to cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads, and has been linked to a rare paralyzing condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome.

WHO drew upon 12 studies and reports published on sexual transmission of Zika, including four studies on male-to-female transmission, one study on male-to-male transmission, and seven case reports from WHO and government officials.

So far, all cases of sexual transmission have occurred when the male is symptomatic. It is not yet known if women or asymptomatic men can transmit the virus through sexual activity.

Such lingering questions that remain unanswered -- as well as the virus's continued spread -- aren't doing much to allay fears surrounding the upcoming summer Olympic Games in Brazil.

A growing number of athletes are expressing concern about participating in the games, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro this August.

U.S. women's goalkeeper Hope Solo told "CBS This Morning" back in February, "If things stood as they are right now, I probably would not go." She has since stated she's been persuaded to attend the games despite her concerns.

NBA star Pau Gasol recently said he is considering skipping the Olympics due to the threat of Zika virus.

Former Olympic swimmer Dara Torres, co-host of the CBS Sports Network's all-female sports show "We Need To Talk," said the decision is an individual one that may depend on the type of sport the athletes play.

"I think it's different for individual sport athletes and team sport athletes," she told CBS News. "For individual sport athletes this is their goal their entire lives... So I don't think you'll see as many individual sport athletes dropping out."

Torres, who is not competing, said she will be going to Rio with her daughter for the games. "I also don't think the USOC would put the athletes at risk if it really were a huge risk," she said.

Earlier this month, a Canadian public health professor wrote an article published in the Harvard Public Health Review stating that the upcoming Olympics should be postponed or moved to prevent a "foreseeable global catastrophe."

But WHO said this weekend that there was no public health justification for postponing or canceling the games.

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    Ashley Welch covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com